Rhythm of Life
Ting-ting was a colleague of mine in pediatrics. I was once working at the Intermediate Care Unit (IMU) for children where she was also stationed at, accompanying her to go on rounds every two hours.
IMU housed patients less severe than Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU). Nevertheless, its patients couldn’t be left with the kids at a normal ward.
At IMU, over 90% of the patients had been admitted for more than ten months, of which 70% was severely deformed, suffering hydrocephalus or Proteus Syndrome, and many other rare diseases found in half of Taiwan. One by one, the patients’ name landed on her admission list. As most of them suffered from pathological changes and numerous seizures due to oxygen deficiency, Ting-ting had to inject them with anti-epileptic medicine every two hours.
“Hello~ my Baby, are you being a good boy today?”
At every quarantine compartment, Ting-ting would warmly and softly greet her patients. She smiled and said to me, “Look, just look at his tiny little hands, aren’t they chubby and absolutely adorable?” She pinched softly the chubby hand of a baby who suffered from severe hydrocephalus. Other than a serious oversize head, the baby’s swelling brain caused “sun setting sign” (eyes appear to gaze downward), and his limbs were weak like a stuffed toy. No glitter in his eyes, no movement. There was nothing “adorable” about him.
Among all the rare diseases, the children’s are the hardest to see. Compared to the photos found in textbooks, when you looked at the little baby, you knew that every cell in his body was striving to grow. However, his damaged brain was unable to give one single order to do so. There was another baby girl with the most delicate skin, but she was born without half of her ribs, and her internal organs are deformed.
“How are you able to look at…” I couldn’t bring myself to finish what I wanted to say — “babies that may die at any moment?”
“Once delivered to these babies, many parents left them in the hospital and never came back,” said Ting-ting.
“How can they do this?” “They would pay the bills, but could never bring this up again… I suppose it is too painful for them.” Ting-ting sighed and continued, “So I become their temporary mother, even if it’s for a little while. At least during their trip to the mortal world, they know somebody is there to love them.”
In a little garden
There’s a little gardener
Surrounded by little flowers
Thinking back of my experience at pediatrics department, in addition to the infant care room where I performed check-ups on newborns, everywhere else was bombarded by thundering cries. The day I left the infant care room, the moment I closed the door behind me, I walked away like a heroine without looking back (with deafening baby cries as the background music).
The most memorable case was a newborn with six fingers. The mother turned white and no one was pleased. Her in-laws and parents were shouting at each other. The husband was even glaring at her with so much hatred in his eyes.
I tried my best to explain: six-finger doesn’t mean the baby has other physical condition; plastic surgery can fix it etc. But no single word got through to the mother.
She was shaking, constantly.
I was young, and simply felt indignant. Only when I became a mother myself, I understood have a child was such a heavy burden. Any mistake could cause serious consequences.
Ting-ting got pregnant and she was just like me back then—pregnant but continued my post as chief resident.
If the rules dictate pregnant doctors can go on leave without having to worry about handing over duties and re-doing a year of training after having babies, which female doctor wouldn’t want to take the leave? I and Ting-ting both knew our career directions, so we were not prepared to just give up.
However, accident caught us off guard, and gave me not even a split second to realize what happened…
When Ting-ting watched me perform CPR in the fifth week of my pregnancy, she was relieved that “pediatrics is a less dramatic department”
The problem began when she was posted to manage pediatrics emergency room, which was also an understaffed department. Her working hours stretched from eight to twelve, of which many were night shifts.
Ting-ting told me, “It’s funny. I haven’t been able to sleep in the morning, and my ears keep ringing…” I said, “You may be sympathetic imbalance! Is your baby gonna be affected?” Ting-ting replied, “A colleague from OB said my baby’s heartbeat was too slow and gave me a week of anti-abortifacient medicine.” I reiterated that she should rest well and she just smiled wryly.
At the end, the baby’s heart stopped at the sixth week.
Ting-ting did not cry. When our colleague from OB stuffed in abortive suppository, she did not cry as well.
Ting-ting said, “Later, I was transferred back to IMU. When I went on to inject babies with anti-epileptic medication…” I said, “I know.”
Then, something happened.
Ting-ting walked in the quarantine compartment and held the chubby hand of her favourite baby. As she was about to make the injection, all of a sudden, she burst into tears that she almost passed out, and that nurses had to find her husband to console her.
Ting-ting grabbed her husband’s hand while kneeling and refusing to stand up.
She cried and shouted, “I’m so sorry… I am so so sorry!!”
“I dreamt of a little boy, smiling to me and said goodbye. I didn’t look at him in time. That’s our baby! There was a baby in the blood clot after I had the abortive suppository. I have to take care of these unwanted babies, but how about mine? Who can give him back to me? My baby!!!”
I was told of what happened later on and could feel a wave of heat swept through my nose.
Ting-ting left her job before she could complete her pediatrics training.
The little garden became desolate.
Did the little flowers notice?
She had a long rest, and did not keep in touch.
After a long time, we met again at the aquarium. Watching a dancing sea anemone, Ting-ting even smiled. But her smile was tainted by a lingering sadness in her heart.
Should we blame the work schedule? Blame the superior? The system? If pregnant women are not protected, is our society is civilized one?
Ting-ting said, “I’m scared, but I will keep trying to have a baby.” I asked why and she said, “I am almost 35…” We sank into silence. Female doctors all know the risk women of advanced reproductive age takes on.
Before we parted, Ting-ting said something that brought tears to my eyes. She said, “My body had a trauma. Right now my menstrual is so messed up. But I wish for it to be late month after month.”
“I keep thinking, this time, this is it… I get to see him again.”